|A leading #MeToo advocate calls a leading #MeToo reporter (me) a "garbage person"
This month, April 2021, I should be celebrating 35 years of membership in the National Association of Science Writers, an organization of more than 2000 professional journalists, writers, public information officers, and other science communicators. Since I joined in April 1986, I have made many lasting friends in the organization. I have served as a mentor to up and coming science writers; edited the "Our Gang" column for the organization's magazine, ScienceWriters; attended a number of annual meetings; and participated as an active discussant in the organization's many internal debates over policies and principles.
This afternoon, however, I sadly submitted my resignation from NASW to the association's executive director and president, Tinsley Davis and Jill Adams, respectively. The reason: I have been charged with violations of the organization's bylaws and codes of misconduct, allegations which I fully deny. Normally, I would have dealt with these allegations through the procedures laid out in the organization's bylaws, which were controversially modified in fall 2019, although I strongly supported those changes in the belief that they would make it easier for victims of harassment to get justice through the association.
Instead, in my case at least, there have been repeated violations of due process, which I and other NASW members have pointed out in communications with the organization's leaders and in online discussion groups. Most seriously, while someone with access to the relevant documents made the allegations against me public--they are still easily searchable online--I have been threatened with serious sanctions from the organization if I make any mention of these allegations or try to defend myself publicly against them. These conditions are so prejudicial that I cannot accept them, nor should anyone in a similar situation.
To be specific, the charges I must answer, by April 5, involve a long-running and very public dispute between me and anthropologist Kate Clancy of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. When I say very public, I should clarify that for most of the 3 1/2 years this disagreement--which I contend is over strategy and tactics in the #MeToo movement, although Clancy sees it very differently--has been very one-sided. It has consisted of constant, public attacks on my #MeToo reporting by Clancy and her allies, which only intensified as that reporting led to the termination or forced resignation of many well-known figures in archaeology and anthropology.
For much of this time, I said very little publicly about the attacks. Only more recently, when Clancy stepped up her attacks on me and my reporting last fall, have I begun to say more about it on social media.
In the current complaint against me, I am accused of bullying and harassing Clancy, and making disparaging remarks that rose to public humiliation. These allegations are false.
As many readers know, I am currently fighting an $18 million defamation suit from Danielle Kurin, an archaeologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara whose violation of Title IX for retaliation against students and other documented misconduct I have reported on extensively over more than a year now.
Last December, Kurin's legal team revealed to us that Clancy had been "cooperating" with them in the case against me, although she had now stopped due to my purported "harassment" of her. In her own recent sworn declaration on the matter, in response to a subpoena we issued her, and which Clancy put online, she admitted that she had been talking with the Kurin camp but she had not made a final decision on whether to testify in the case on behalf of Kurin.
Naturally, Clancy's communications with the Kurin camp were an appropriate subject for me to write about on social media, but my comments are now, also, part of the complaint against me.
In the next installment of a long-planned series of posts about my experiences as a #MeToo reporter, I will link to the allegations and provide them in full, along with my defenses and responses to them. And, as should be clear by now, this is why I must resign from the NASW. Its leaders have given me the Hobson's choice in which I can defend myself only if I do it privately, against accusations that are now fully public.
The NASW and due process
In 2019, in anticipation of the NASW's annual meeting that fall, the NASW board proposed changes in the organization's bylaws that would spell out how to deal with harassment and other forms of misconduct by members, especially at meetings. A number of other professional organizations had adopted anti-harassment rules, and a lot of members felt--rightly, in my view--that it was time for NASW to have set procedures to deal with such issues. Early in the discussion, a number of members raised concerns and objections about some of the provisions being proposed. One concern was about the secrecy of the proposed procedures, in which a committee appointed by the board would investigate a complaint first, without notifying the accused member that it had been filed; only if the committee and the board found that there were charges to answer would the accused be notified of the allegations and invited to respond to them.
Another concern was that the review committee not only brought the charges, the indictment if you will, but that this same body then judged whether the accused's defenses to them were valid or not. The objectors argued that the same body was acting as prosecutor, judge, and jury.
I listened to these objections carefully, and did not feel at the time that they could be lightly dismissed. At the same time, as a very active #MeToo reporter and advocate, I knew that abusers used due process arguments often to try to avoid responsibility for their actions. And we had all seen the way that former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss tried to change the Title IX regulations in a way that would make it much more difficult for victims and survivors of abuse to press their cases.
Also, I knew that one of the NASW members objecting to the bylaw modifications had been himself accused of harassment, in a process that took place behind the scenes and remains largely secret today (I do not pretend to know whether the allegations were valid or not and make no judgement about that here.) Also, I strongly believed, and still do, that victims of abuse need to be given a safe procedural space in which to bring their allegations to the attention of their organizations and institutions without fearing immediate retaliation from their abusers.
So, in the end, I not only voted for the bylaw changes but publicly supported them on our discussion lists. It is ironic, and very bad for NASW's credibility in dealing with these issues, that in my own case the due process provisions of our bylaws have already been stretched so far as to result in a miscarriage of justice.
The allegations against me
As I wrote above, in the next installment I will deal with the Clancy allegations in detail. Here I just want to outline how all of this came about. On September 30 of last year, a group of NASW members filed a complaint against me under the provisions of the bylaws. The immediate impetus for the filing of the complaint was an episode involving a individual who was then a student at the University of Chicago, whom I was forced to reveal had lied blatantly and repeatedly about her interactions with me early in 2020. As with the other individuals involved in the complaint, I will provide a detailed account of what happened in the coming posts.
Sometime after the complaint was filed with NASW, I believe soon after, it was leaked. I wrote about the sequence of events in this blog post on January 19, which also describes how the original complaint--which was supposed to remain confidential--became public, and the relationship between the individuals involved in the complaint and the Danielle Kurin lawsuit. I have already described Clancy's role in this; in addition, nearly all of the people named in the complaint were listed by Kurin's team as potential witnesses in the lawsuit. One of them, Akshay Sarathi, now a visiting professor at Indiana University, provided Kurin with a sworn declaration full of falsehoods about me and my reporting, and is now being represented by Kurin's legal team. Sarathi's declaration was put online and made public the day after he signed it.
As I said above, repeated protests by me and other NASW members that under these circumstances due process was impossible, and that the NASW complaint was inextricably bound up with Danielle Kurin's lawsuit against me, went either unheard or ignored. Adding to the prejudicial nature of the process, the board took five full months to investigate the charges, refusing to provide me with any updates even though the accusations were fully public and easily searchable. Meanwhile, Kurin's legal team used the NASW complaint in its opening statement in a letter to the federal judge overseeing the lawsuit. That letter opposed our request to file an early motion for summary judgement in the case and to raise protections afforded by defendants like me under New York's recently modified anti-SLAPP statute.
In other words, the NASW complaint, long before it was fully evaluated and investigated by the review committee and the board, was already being used against me in the most prejudicial manner. To make matters worse, despite taking five months to investigate and bring charges, the board--as I will detail in the next post--failed to either see or consider the entire context for the dispute between me and Kate Clancy, something it easily could have figured out if the investigation had been serious and thorough. Indeed, it should have been a red flag for the board that all of the allegations involved a group of anthropologists; and I believe that everyone on the board was aware that my reporting of abuses in this discipline had been controversial and that some did not take kindly to it. It certainly would not have been the first time that happened to a reporter, as a group of science writers and journalists would surely know. And certainly, the NASW board should have been especially sensitive to the fact that some of the individuals involved in the complaint, most notably Clancy herself, were in communication with the Kurin camp.
Why did Kate Clancy call me a "garbage person"?
There will be much more to say in future posts, which I hope will be spaced out by no more than a week for each. But before closing, I want to explain the screenshot that opens this article--especially as I am accused by NASW of making personal attacks against Kate Clancy.
In this Tweet from April 2019, which was public, Clancy is making a comment about me to BethAnn McLaughlin, a former #MeToo advocate whose well-known Twitter name was @McLNeuro (the fact that I am Jewish makes it sting just a little more, but a dehumanizing statement of this sort is surely not acceptable no matter whom the target.)
I think many readers here will know about BethAnn McLaughlin's own history, but for those who don't: McLaughlin was a neuroscientist at the University of Vanderbilt who became a very public face of the #MeToo and #MeTooSTEM movements. But even at the time of Clancy's Tweet, McLaughlin was falling out of favor with many #MeToo activists for her bullying style, and there were also charges of racism against her. By May 2019, these allegations had already come out into the open, when Peter Aldhous of BuzzFeed did a major story about them and the resignations from the MeTooSTEM organization McLaughlin's conduct had triggered.
As the criticisms of McLaughlin mounted, and more activists distanced themselves from her, McLaughlin fought back, even forcing the cancellation of a workshop for journalists about #MeToo reporting--organized by the New York affiliate of NASW--because it used the public #MeTooSTEM hashtag. (In public Tweets, McLaughlin explained that she was trying to stop my own #MeToo reporting, as I was one of the panelists for the event. In fact, McLaughlin had attacked me personally a number of times, and so did a sock puppet account that she had created, pretending to be a woman of color, and exposure of which led to her downfall last year.)
So what prompted Kate Clancy to call me a "garbage person" to McLaughlin (@McLNeuro)? Although McLaughlin's Twitter account is now suspended for misrepresenting herself, and so is not accessible, she and her sock puppet both accused me of "grandstanding" during an episode that is actually one in which I take a tremendous amount of pride.
In April 2019, during the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, a confirmed sexual predator showed up in the presence of three of his victims. The predator, David Yesner, had been found responsible for numerous counts of sexual harassment and abuse by his home institution, the University of Alaska, denied emeritus status, banned from any campus of his former university, and ordered not to be present at any event that involved University of Alaska students. I became aware of the case through sources at the university, although the actual news was broken by Anchorage's KTVA (for reasons that are not clear, that original story seems to be missing.)
Two of the victims contacted me upon spotting Yesner at the meeting, and asked me to help them. I was still in my hotel room, but made my way over quickly in an Uber, and went to the conference office to report his presence. An SAA official listened to what I had to say, but did not appear to take it seriously and actually acted like I was a bit crazy. I then made contact with the two victims, who helped me find Yesner, whom I eventually located in the exhibition hall. Without using physical threats, but rather the force of embarrassment, I escorted Yesner out. The next morning, I was kicked out of the meeting by SAA officials, which triggered many months of protests and recriminations against the organization for not protecting victims and privileging their abuser. (For two very accurate reports on what happened, see contemporaneous articles by Science and The Scientist.)
(I do not know who started the rumors that I used physical force to kick Yesner out, that I had fought with security guards, or that I myself had been physically removed from the meeting, but they are all false.)
At the time, neither Clancy nor McLaughlin had any real knowledge of what had happened at the meeting. And far from "grandstanding," I did what I thought was best at the time to protect the survivors, who were not able to attend their desired sessions at the meeting because Yesner was there--and in the face of complete inaction from SAA officials. I did what I hope anyone else would do. Since these events, the survivors have found their own voices; but the two I mentioned did speak up publicly in the face of the criticisms from Clancy and McLaughlin, and I will always be grateful to them for doing that.
As I will emphasize in future posts, this is not really about me, although Clancy and some others have tried to make it about me over several years now. It's about the survivors, and what is best for them, and how colleagues can be real allies and support them--even if they go to reporters as a last resort to get their stories told.
I will have much more to say about all of this in the coming weeks. There have been just too many lies over too many years, and it's time for them to be fully addressed.
Update April 4: As I explained above, the main reason I was forced to resign from NASW is that I was prohibited by the board and officers from making a public defense to allegations that had already been made public earlier. Here are the exact prohibitions from the top of the complaint that I was required to respond to by April 5. In the next blog post, in which I will respond to the allegations in detail, I will reproduce all of them for readers to see. Presumably this is the admonition that anyone else subject to this process will have to stick to, even if the allegations against them are also leaked publicly. One of the ironies of this process is that NASW leadership showed little to no concern that the original complaint was leaked; little curiosity about who did it nor interest in finding out; and no discernible interest at all that it was being weaponized by Kurin's team in the $18 million defamation suit against me (something that could happen to any member of NASW if they delved into controversial reporting.)
Moreover, the severe sanctions threatened below are not supported anywhere in the NASW bylaws, which simply say that complaints should be kept confidential to the extent possible.
This is not just bad for me and my position in the lawsuit, but bad for all journalists, and all NASW members, if their organization is not doing its best to protect colleagues from frivolous lawsuits and in fact makes it easier for litigants to exploit the organization’s internal processes. NASW did resist a subpoena from Kurin for its records concerning me, and that was a good precedent, but what it gave with one hand it took away with the other. I hope as time goes on more people will come to understand that.